Tuesday, September 6, 2022

OSR: The Hour-men and the Salesmen of Time

by Randy Vargas
The Besoa are a rank in the Empire of Lore.  They are normal humans that have a special tattoo placed upon them.  This tattoo is shaped like an eye ringed by roses and arcane glyphs.  Where the pupil of the eye should be, there is instead a number.  This number indicates the amount of time a Besoa has left to live.  When the number hits 0, the Besoa dies, no matter their health. 

So, why in the name of the God-Emperor's Thirteen Eyes would anyone ever let themselves be modified in this way?  The answer is obvious.  The Besoa, as long as they have sufficient means of acquiring more life, can live for as long as they can afford to.  With sufficient opportunities, they could live forever, barring injury, illness or accident.

How to become a Besoa:

The Department of Chronology does not govern the flow of time, but of life.  They are in charge of the regulation and creation of Besoa, as well as monitoring the sale of life.  To become a Besoa, you will need to speak with them.  And while they technically will only make someone a Besoa because of an order from a relevant Clerical or Civil authority, there are rumors that a sufficient bribe to one of their officials can gain the Besoa status.  Additionally, it is not uncommon for wealthy individuals to bribe a Noble or Cleric (of the Church, not the Class) to write an order making them a Besoa.  This is technically legal on behalf of the Chronologists, with any wrong-doing falling on the ones paying and receiving the bribe.  Of course, many Chronologists also take a small cut of these bribes, just to make sure everyone is properly incentivized to work together.

artist unknown

The Sale of Life:

Chronologists are responsible for the distribution and sale of life.  Life can be earned through two ways. 

Firstly, it can be awarded.  The God-Emperor (and other Immortal Individuals) have a theoretically unlimited lifespan, so they can take their own life and give it to another without aging.  Lore will regularly do this, draining his own life and handing it off to the Department of Chronology, who will award it Nobles or Clerics based on the orders from the Lord Governors and the Grand Pontifex.  Thus, as a Noble or Cleric, the easiest way to earn more life is to be obedient and serve faithfully.   

Secondly, one can purchase life.  The Chronologists have facilities set up in most cities where they offer large sums of money to those willing to sell their lifespans for money.  They usually target the poorest people, often those with young children.  After all, young children are such a burden.  They won't miss a few years off their lifespan, and that money will help you take care of them.  Or they'll target young men in dangerous careers and offer to buy years off them, in exchange for cash.  After all, those individuals can just become Besoa themselves and earn those years back.

You can often find Chronologists in cities, in their eponymous black robes embroidered with roses and eyes, usually wearing clock-themed accessories, such as clock headdresses or sundials attached to torcs or necklaces.  These people are often feared by the Lofai, who spread black rumors about them, most of which are untrue.  They refer to these individuals as 'Hour-Men'.

And while most of the sales of life entail the abundance of the poor Lofai being transferred to the relative paucity of the Noble Besoa, the Hour-Men also control and facilitate transfer of years between Besoa.  This is most commonly done in exchange for something very valuable, such as land, castles, ships, etc.  Years are the primary currency for such large purchases within the Empire, being easily transportable and (theoretically) impossible to steal.   

The Effects of the Tattoo:

Depending on how many years a Besoa has, it will affect their appearance and general strength.

Years left     Condition

<5: Ancient and Decreipt.  Disadvantage on all checks and saves, can barely move, might be going senile. 

10-15: Old, sickly and weak.  Disadvantage on CON, STR and DEX checks and saves.  -2 to all Pursuit Rolls.  CON is reduced by 1d6, STR by 1d6, DEX by 1d4.     

16-25: Old but hardy, like an ancient stump that long outlasted the rest of the tree.  Disadvantage on STR and DEX checks and saves.  CON is reduced by 1d3, STR and DEX by 1.

26-40: Middle-aged, not young, but definitely far from old.  With rigorous training, all ability scores remain as they are.  Otherwise, reduce CON, STR and DEX by 1. 

41-60: Young but seasoned, no one would call you old, but too experienced to hang out with kids and young people without feeling weird.  1/Day, get advantage on a STR, DEX or CON save or check.  Increase STR, DEX and CON by 1, up to natural maximum.   

60+: In the spring of youth.  You look like a young adult, ripe with potential and flush with vigor.  3/Day, get advantage on a STR, DEX or CON check or saving throw.  You get 1d4 Ability Score points, increase or decrease STR, DEX or CON to your liking up to their natural maximum.

by David Palumbo

The Clock-Thieves:

Theoretically, the Chronologists maintain an absolute monopoly on the sale of lifespan, not only from a legal perspective, but also because they are the only ones who can initiate transfer of years from one person to another.  Additionally, with the need for a Besoa tattoo, it is impossible to transfer or 'steal' life from anyone without the sophisticated and unwieldy equipment of the Chronologists. 

That's not to say that there aren't rumors.  They say that their are bandits who dwell in cities and walk, disguised, among the people.  These are the Clock-Thieves, or the Hickories.  The Hickories are supposedly gangs of thieves who have learned how to steal years from Besoa and prey on them, running underground black markets where life can be purchased for enormous expense. Some even argue that the reason why the Emperor has not had these illegal time-markets shut down is because he is secretly behind them, his agents being the ones who know how to extract life without Chronologist equipment. 

Others claim that the Nobility are in on it instead of the Emperor, and not only do they steal from each other, but they have agents called Minutemen, who can steal life from those who don't even have Besoa tattoos.  Supposedly, they drain your life 1 minute per second they touch you, so just by walking through a cloud and brushing shoulders with people, they accumulate a huge fortune of time.  Others claim that they are far less kind- kidnapping children and strapping them to improvised equipment that tears away their life, instantly aging them into the doddering old, or simply killing them, leaving the withered corpses of ancient men and women stuffed into crawlspaces or buried in shallow graves outside the city. 

Despite the many persistent rumors and vivid stories about them- no one has ever proved that Clock-Thieves are anything but an urban legend.

Counterfeit Tattoos:

The legitimate Besoa Tattoo, the Rose and Eye, are only given out with the permission of the Emperor or one of his proxies, and inscribed by a trained Chronologist in a ritual process that is relatively safe and tightly controlled.  But mistakes sometimes happen, Chronologists sometimes get drunk and sometimes they commit crimes.  The Department of Chronology will usually banish such men to the counting process and prevent them from tattooing further, but it cannot ever let them leave.  The Department takes great pains to ensure that information on how to make Besoa tattoos does not leak. 

Yet despite the Department's best efforts, scraps of the process have long ago fled the secure walls of that edifice and made their way into the darkened corners of the God-Emperor's domain.

There are more than a few disgraced Chronologists, amateur scholars and rogue Magi who have experimented with trying to replicate the Besoa tattoo, to varying degrees of success.  Some have nearly succeeded, while others have only produced horrible amalgams of blood and ink that only torment the poor soul who has it inscribed on their flesh. 

Obviously, you can purchase these from unscrupulous sellers or at one of Yesterday's Markets.

by Dolly Skin Art

Common Counterfeit Tattoos:

The Bloody Rose: A Besoa tattoo with extremely elaborate rose detailing, thorns and vines stretching up and down the arms and legs of the person who bears it.  This tattoo is an attempt by the Besoa to replicate the immortality of the Upper Nobility.  The Bloody Rose not only stores life, but it freezes the bearer at the age the Besoa tattoo has them at.  This is best done to a young person, as it allows them to remain at their current age, retaining all the strength and power of youth.  The Bloody Rose also allows the bearer to sacrifice years to speed the regeneration process, burning 1 year for 1d4 HP.  Bearers can also spend 1 year per point of a Horrible Wound to instantly heal it.  This type is relatively common among some figures in the criminal underworld or among Knights of the Empire.  There is a 20% that when the Bloody Rose is received, it is done improperly and thus, leaks, losing 1 year per week.

Cruel Thorns: A tattoo that replicates the Eye designs of the default Besoa tattoo, but has no blossoms.  Instead it has an excess of thorns, even potruding from the stylized eyes.  This tattoo is often taken by other Besoa alongside their normal tattoo, albeit in secret.  This one allows the theft of life- from anyone who has a Besoa tattoo.  By touching another creature with a Besoa tattoo, the bearer of the Cruel Thorns can drain life from them at a rate of 1d6 years per round.  Sadly, this process is not elegant nor refined, and causes great pain to the creature being drained of their life.  There is a 25% that when the Cruel Thorns is received, it is done improperly, causing painful feedback to the one who uses it to drain life, inflicting an identical pain on the creature draining life.

The Hateful Eye: A tattoo that was intended to replicate the Besoa tattoo but only causes suffering, the Hateful Star resembles the Sun and is ringed by the God-Emperor's thirteen eyes.  This was meant to pacify him but instead drew his ire.  Those who bear the Hateful Star are frozen at their current age and cannot heal from any injury they suffer, no matter how severe or minor.  Stub your toe while bearing this tattoo and it will hurt forever, at least until you die.  This tattoo is almost always only given to prisoners or slaves by especially cruel masters, as it greatly encourages them to not resist and be very careful.  Creatures overcome by the pain while bearing the Hateful Star usually end up collapsing into a coma-like state, going catatonic at their endless agony until they starve or die of dehydration.  Usually such miserable creatures are killed to put them out of their misery.

The Trickling Sands: A modified Besoa tattoo with an hourglass, instead of eyes, as the primary motif.  This tattoo is modified so that instead of storing years as the smallest unit, it stores hours.  Any creature bearing this tattoo has a life measured in days, weeks or mere hours.  This tattoo is only ever given to those who cannot be trusted or those who must be compelled by the strongest possible means.  This tattoo is popular with powerful gang-bosses and corrupt politicians, and is rumored to be used by certain members of the Imperial Government, though that last thing is likely just a rumor.  There is a 25% chance that when this tattoo is administered it causes normal Besoan aging, reverting the target to an ancient in an instant, as they only have hours left to live.  The normal version of the Trickling Sands is designed to prevent such aging, leaving the bearer in a state to carry out the demands of their master.     

The Spring of Youth: A modified Besoa tattoo that functions almost exactly like the original, with one notable difference.  It does not have a lower limit.  Taking on too many years with this tattoo will reduce you to a child, then a baby, then a barely formed embryo.  There is a 20% when this tattoo is given that it does not function properly, allowing the storage of years but failing to bring any youth to the creature who bears it, as the tattooist overcorrected.  

The Hideous Stars: An experimental Besoa-type tattoo meant to allow the channeling of arcane energy to be directly transformed into years of life, the Hideous Stars as the tattoo became known was a terrifying success, beyond the wildest dreams of the madmen who cooked it up.  This tattoo resembles a starfield woven together by bars of light, a constellation of great and hideous strength.  The Hideous Stars allows the transfer of life like a normal Besoa-type tattoo, but it also allows the transfer of Mana Dice.  The bearer of the tattoo can use these transferred years and MD to heal his injuries and even regenerate lost appendages.  The only problem is that flesh that tends to come from this tattoo tends to be mutated or deformed in some way.  Those who have borne such a tattoo for a long time are barely human-looking monsters, twisted in form.  Despite what the rumors say, the Tattoo does not affect the mind.  The reason why so many who bear the starfield become terrible monsters is because they are rejected by society, or because they had no interest of ever being accepted to begin with.     

Plot Hooks:


1- Besoa are suddenly and inexplicably aging rapidly in the City.  It's an epidemic!  No one knows how or why it's happening, but they're all extremely concerned.  You are hired by a worried nobleman who is concerned he is next.  Dig into this mystery and find out the truth. 
2- As above, except your client is actually behind the thefts and he is planning on setting you up as the fall guys. 
3- You all wake up with a splitting headache and a baby, an adorable 1-year old girl with a Besoa tattoo and a fortune of 97 years embedded in her skin.  You will quickly come to realize that you stole this child in a fit of drunken ambition and the criminals who tattooed her want her back. 
4- You're recruited to act as the accomplices of Larken the Mad, Master Thief.  Larken wants to rob one of the richest men in the City, the Baron of Amberspear, and Larken doesn't just want the Baron's gold.  He wants his life, or rather, his years. 
5- A group of Chronologists approach you with a unique offer.  They'd like to make a little money, on the side.  They have a plan, a great source of years, just outside the City.  There is a Dragon and they want you to subdue it, so they can tattoo it and drain it's life to make them rich.  How are they going to do this?  No idea, but they're sure you'll think of something.  After all, there's a fortune on the line.
6- The party finds a magical quill that can modify tattoos, non-magical or magical alike.  They could use this to open their own tattoo parlor, or they could use this to make a fortune.  The only problem is finding a few Besoan Nobles and getting them to take their clothes off...

by Marian Voicu

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